Adler Planetarium

A Vision for Excellence in Early Childhood Education

It is our collective responsibility to ensure that every child has access to high quality education, and that begins with early learning programs." - Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Earlier this month, the PNC Foundation announced a two-year extension of their Early Science Learning program through 2015. The science-focused program provides high quality experiences to preschool students, teachers, and families across several, high-need Chicago communities. Since 2010, over 1,000 students from Big Shoulders Fund and Chicago Public Schools have participated in this innovative science program developed collaboratively between the Adler Planetarium, The Field Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, and Shedd Aquarium. 

Scott Swanson, regional president, Illinois The PNC Financial Group talks with Abby Cadabby (center) and new muppet, Buzz Word (right). 

Scott Swanson, regional president, Illinois The PNC Financial Group talks with Abby Cadabby (center) and new muppet, Buzz Word (right). 

While the first three years of the PNC Early Science Learning program focused on the museum partners providing materials, skills, and experiences to help educators and parents guide children in inquiry-based science explorations, the goal of the next two years is to enable teachers and parents to be able to sustain the learning experience on their own. Families will participate in school and museum field trips designed to increase parents’ confidence in their ability to support their child’s long-term early development. Teachers will participate in building a Community of Practice to enhance scientific understanding by sharing ideas and learning with colleagues, and ultimately facilitating their ownership of family field trips.

The Adler Planetarium is leading the development of the Community of Practice through in-person and electronic communications.  In a cohesive Community of Practice, teachers participate in reflective exercises and inquiry experiences that will be useful in their work with students in the classroom, and importantly, they share their expertise and problem-solve with each other so their peers can become a valued resource. 

As part of the Adler’s leadership in developing this new Community of Practice, teachers used an online survey to identify their learning style and assess the impact on their teaching style. Additionally, in an effort to forge a collaborative future vision for great teaching, community members have begun an exercise that asks them to reflect upon what good science teaching “looks like” in their classroom, and identify core ideas. It was amazing to see the similar trends emerging when four groups of teachers who worked independently came together to discuss their visions! 

To enhance the in-person Community of Practice sessions, educators communicate online through the use of a private online networking tool.  Here, supported by other members, they share questions, resources, successes and failures, as well as activities that support their classroom studies. Online, teachers can access common preschool topics such as the lifecycle of a butterfly and the Solar System, and can view a variety of inquiry approaches and documentations used by their colleagues. This collaboration of ideas and resources will ideally lead to a stronger, more unified network of preschool educators!

The Chicago Early Science Learning program is part of Grow Up Great, PNC’s larger, early childhood education initiative, which celebrated its tenth anniversary in April by announcing additional funding to launch a $19 million, multi-year vocabulary initiative for underserved pre-kindergarten children. A portion of the funding will support a partnership with University of Chicago Medicine to help parents build their children’s vocabularies and follow participating families through a five-year longitudinal study. 

Written by Colleen Incandela, senior educator for early science programs, and Peggy Piper, senior educator, at the Adler Planetarium. 

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